Silverseas’ Silver Shadow and the Carnival Spirit light up the night in Ketchikan. Photo courtesy of Ketchikan Daily News. Twenty-eight ACA ships made 470 calls on Ketchikan this year.

By John Binkley, ACA President

Each year, the nine member lines of the Alaska Cruise Association (ACA) deliver 60 percent of the state’s visitors to Alaska. These visitors spend millions of dollars to have a memorable experience in a beautiful, pristine environment.

To make sure our waste water discharges do no harm to the environment we market, the ACA member lines have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new treatment technology and on-board recycling programs. While there is still progress to be made, we believe the Alaska cruise industry’s environmental record is one Alaska should celebrate. And so do our state and federal regulators who say we “have performed with outstanding environmental results.”

That’s why we are so disappointed with the Large Commercial Passenger Vessel Wastewater Discharge General Permit issued last spring by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). This permit holds the cruise ships to a much different standard than it holds every other discharger in Alaska. While it may be technically possible to meet the standard, the practicality would be unattainable and the result would bring no discernable improvement to the environment.

The new permit measures effluent at the point of discharge instead of allowing a dilution zone – which every state in the United States allows – and State of Alaska statutes contemplate. This is a different standard from what’s required for coastal communities or the fishing industry or the oil platforms in Cook Inlet.

And it’s not what voters were told they were voting on in 2006.

The permit requirement is part of the cruise ship initiative that voters approved in 2006. That initiative imposed a number of environmental provisions, including one that requires ships to have a “discharge permit and meet all Alaska water quality standards.”

Backers of the initiative repeatedly told voters that the ships would be held to the same standards that “every other industrial and municipal discharger” must meet, and that “no new permitting program is necessary.”

Just days before the election, one initiative backer told the Alaska Journal of Commerce: “You have to play by the rules we have established for everyone.'”

That’s fair, but the permit ADEC issued holds the ships to a much different standard, one that may cost Alaska communities, Alaska’s own ferries and businesses.

Alaska’s water quality standards contemplate the use of dilution factors, such as mixing zones or short-term variances. As ADEC explains on its website, mixing zones “are provided for by the Clean Water Act and used by every state in the Nation. Without mixing zones, wastewater would have to be treated to the point where it could serve as a source of drinking water before being discharged and that just isn’t feasible here or anywhere else. Sewage treatment plants and seafood processors in Alaska could not operate without a mixing zone.”

And neither can we. So to meet the standards, ships will have to hold their wastewater discharges until they are out of Alaska waters. This will shorten the time in port, which may negatively impact Alaska businesses. It may result in fewer ports of call, which will financially harm port communities.

Alaska should hold cruise ships to the same stringent standards as its coastal communities. That’s in Alaska’s best interests. But it’s not in the state’s best interest to potentially shorten the time the cruise visitors have ashore or to eliminate some ports of call altogether.

Alaska needs to base its permits on sound science and common sense.

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